Farming Update – August 2018

The Dairy Co-operatives Arla and First Milk have announced increases to members of 0.8p/litre bringing the prices up to 31.3p and 28p per litre respectively. Muller is raising its price by 1.50p to 29.50p per litre. The rises come as the hot dry weather is causing uncertainty over milk production. Dairy Crest will make an additional payment of 0.5p/litre due to extreme weather conditions.

The Government has made £45m available via grants to local authorities, to improve broadband services in rural areas following continuing criticism of its plans. The grants support the latest initiative to help those hard-to-reach areas not included in the national superfast scheme.

In a recent meeting with Welsh farmers, the Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, expressed optimism that farmers would continue to have tariff-free trade with the EU after Brexit. Concern is rising, across farming that a “no deal” would be a disaster for UK farmers.

The 2018 National Rural Crime Survey discloses that 69% of the 20,000 respondents were the victims of crime in the previous twelve months. Offences include fly-tipping, theft and criminal damage. The survey and sustained pressure from industry leaders has led to the introduction of a revised rural crime strategy by police chiefs, recognising the seriousness of the problem.

UK exports of red meat rose by 7% to 183,000 tonnes in the period January to May 2018. The export market is worth over £487m. Beef exports showed the biggest rise at 18% with China and France key markets for lamb and pig meat, respectively.

Government plans to end the small-scale feed-in tariffs were confirmed last week as it called for evidence on the future of small-scale electricity generation. The scheme has driven the growth of renewable energy generation by farmers, small businesses, community schemes and domestic users with over 800,000 installations. The Government is widely criticised for their lack of continuity on this issue.

Thirty-four organisations, including the National Trust, RSPCA and the National Sheep Association have called on the Government to halt the demise of small abattoirs. A third of small abattoirs have closed within the last ten years, with 10% in the last twelve months. The Government has expressed a preference for animals to be slaughtered locally.

Defra has announced a new deal with Taiwan for the export of British pork. It is estimated to be worth £50m over the next five years. Currently pork exports total £290m and go to over 80 countries. Overseas demand is often for offal, a part of the carcass that is not popular in the UK. The latest figures show that total food and drink exports reached a record £10.6bn in the first half of 2018.

Tougher laws have been introduced for those who commit serious animal cruelty offences. The current maximum penalty of six months in prison is increased to five years. The move is part of the promised wider programme of animal welfare reform post-Brexit.

Figures from Defra show that the UK was 60% self-sufficient in food in 2017. This compares with a figure of 71% in 1988. The figure has been stable over the last four years but has still prompted farming leaders to call on the Government for more action on the subject of food security.

Problems have arisen with some of the early anaerobic digestion plants with several going into administration. The plants, costing up to £10m and more were built with EU subsidies but have proved very complex to operate and manage. Experts say they cannot be run as just a side-line to a busy farm and need full-time attention.

Farmers’ leaders have criticised the Welsh Government’s TB control programme following a 10% rise in the number of incidents in the twelve months to April 2018. This has led to further increases in the numbers of cattle slaughtered and farms under herd restriction.

The predicted shortage of seasonal farm workers has impacted on the soft fruit sector, particularly in Scotland with growers leaving up to 60 tonnes, unpicked, to rot. The Government is being urged to re-introduce the scheme for foreign seasonal workers to alleviate the problem on both fruit and vegetable farms.